SAITAMA – Urawa Reds advanced to the final of the Asian Champions League for the first time since 2007 with a 2-1 aggregate win over China’s Shanghai SIPG after winning Wednesday’s semifinal second leg 1-0.
Rafael Silva scored in the 11th minute to put Urawa ahead at Saitama Stadium following a 1-1 draw in the Sept. 27 first leg, and the J. League side kept Shanghai’s expensively assembled Brazilian trio of Oscar, Hulk and Elkeson quiet for the rest of the game to book its place in the final.
Reds will now face Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the two-legged title match on Nov. 18 and 25 — with the second leg in Saitama — 10 years after they became the first Japanese team to win the trophy in the competition’s current format.
“Our first priority was not to concede a goal, and from there we wanted to be brave and score ourselves,” said captain Yuki Abe, who won the title when Urawa beat Iran’s Sepahan in 2007.
“Of course it would have been good to score more goals but 1-0 was enough.”
Shanghai striker Hulk went into the match having scored in every ACL match he had played in this season, but Urawa turned in a composed performance that nullified the Brazilian’s threat and reduced teammate Oscar to a virtual spectator.
“Whichever team scored the first goal was really important tonight, and we got a good one from a set piece,” said Abe. “It’s a great feeling. I want to enjoy this atmosphere one more time.”
Shanghai produced moments of early danger but Urawa took control with the opening goal in the 11th minute. Yosuke Kashiwagi swung in a corner, and Silva completely escaped marker Odil Akhmedov to head it into the net.
Yuki Muto missed a good chance to double Urawa’s lead when he headed wide six minutes later, before goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa denied Hulk at the other end with a comfortable save from a long-range free kick.
Nishikawa also kept out Akhmedov to send Urawa into halftime with its one-goal lead intact, and Tomoaki Makino almost scored 10 minutes after the restart when he headed another Kashiwagi corner against the crossbar.
Reds retreated into their defensive shell as the second half wore on but almost snatched another goal when Abe connected with Shinzo Koroki, only for Shanghai goalkeeper Yan Junling to tip his header over the bar.
Nishikawa bailed the home side out again when he saved from Hulk in the 78th minute, then got up to block Elkeson running in on the rebound before a defender hacked the ball to safety.
But Urawa managed to hold it together to reach the final whistle without conceding, giving Japan its first team in the final since Gamba Osaka won the competition in 2008.
“It’s been 10 years since we were here last,” said Abe. “It’s not going to be easy but let’s try and do it together.”
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